Theatre / show of strength

Preview: The Steampunk Mistress and the Time Machine

By Steve Wright , Tuesday Jun 25, 2019

Two brilliant Bristol theatre companies, Closer Each Day Company (they of the brilliant, fortnightly improv soap opera) and Show of Strength (they of the ever-absorbing promenade performances bringing to life darker corners of Bristol’s history), join forces this summer. And their joint venture takes audiences on a steampunk voyage through time and space, via this promenade performance aboard Brunel’s SS Great Britain.

HG Wells has left his wife to live with his young, scientifically-minded mistress. He’s writing his first novel and if it fails he’s finished. And his personal life is just as fantastic as his fiction – his mistress’s mother is sharing their rented rooms in Sevenoaks.

As the pressure increases from all sides, the world of science fiction becomes an attractive alternative to reality. So attractive it’s just possible that Wells can no longer tell the difference.

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Here’s Lindsey Garwood from Closer Each Day to tell us more.

Tell us how this project came about, Lindsey. Who approached whom?
Closer Each Day Company had done some shows on Brunel’s ss Great Britain already, and they asked us if we were interested in doing something else on the ship. We weren’t really that experienced in doing promenade shows, where you move around taking the audience with you, and some of us knew and worked with Show of Strength who do brilliant promenade stuff and theatre using all sorts of spaces. So, I approached Sheila of Show of Strength and we hit it off.

Show of  Strength and Closer Each Day Company’s co-pro takes audiences on a steampunk promenade tour of Brunel’s ss Great Britain, as it follows HG Wells’ turbulent personal life

What steered you towards HG Wells / steampunk / the ss Great Britain?
Our first idea was actually for a steampunk version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on board the ship. Maybe we shall still do that one day (what could be more steampunk than the Mechanicals?), but it didn’t end up happening.

Fast forward a year and the SSGB were still interested in a steampunk something, though, and Gary on the events team there mentioned HG Wells’ The Time Machine. We delved into his biography and discovered just what an intriguing man he was, he led a scandalous personal life and the backdrop to him writing this, his first novel, was just ripe for playing with… leaving his wife, living with his mistress and her mother, needing to make the book a success – I think he thrived on the pressure and drama!

Show of Strength and Closer Each Day Company work using different approaches – Show of Strength will start with text and Closer Each Day uses improvisation – but we have found a synchronicity that is a lot of fun and quite addictive. Theatre companies in Bristol, or anywhere really, tend to plough their own furrows but (to continue with that metaphor) some cross-fertilisation can be very good for the end result!


The show embraces the steampunk genre – “sci-fi set in the world of Victoriana”, as Lindsey terms it

Tell us about the feel of the piece. Does it have, say, the slightly uncanny feel of a sci-fi novel? Is there darkness? Humour? Rich characters?
We have the great gift with this show, not only of having the novel itself to explore and use, but the real life fascinating characters of HG Wells and the women around him.

Closer Each Day Company and Show of Strength share a love of really getting into the juicy stuff, going for it with the depth and nuances of the character and their emotions. There will be humour too, that is our bread and butter, as in our fortnightly improvised soap opera at the Wardrobe, and our performers have those comedic instincts – it would be a shame not to use them! We also want to bring in the somewhat twisted world of futuristic sci-fi that Wells himself created. There may even be a moment with a bit of a sci-fi B-movie feel. Nice to mix things up a bit!

The audience will be in their own time machines, taking them to different parts of the ship – there are a brilliant array of locations to use on the ship, it seems to have been made for this show!

How would you define steampunk, for those of us not well acquainted?
It’s totally fine if people don’t really know what steampunk is, loads of people don’t! It comes from the love and adoration that sprung up in the Victorian Age for all things mechanical – levers and cogs and engines and steam and machines and things that go bzzz, ding, whirrr in the night.

Our machines today are not so romantic, they are all sleek and silent and you don’t need to pull as many levers and turn as many wheels, and nor do you wear such fun outfits while doing those things.

Steampunk is sci-fi set in the world of Victoriana. There is an aesthetic, think goggles and gnarly hats and fitted waistcoats and a nicely turned out jacket. And you can class as ‘steampunk’ those writers who embraced modernity and looked to the future, opened up possibilities in fact and imagination.

Show of Strength does a great theatre walk in Bath about Mary Shelley – she is often named the grandmother of Steampunk for writing Frankenstein and its ideas about how electricity could be used. HG Wells is also credited with being the inspiration for steampunk, although I think if he was around today though he would be more interested in our sleek and soundless technology – hell, he predicted a lot of it. His head just wouldn’t stop, the man fit a thousand lifetimes’ work (and loves) into one life. We are just going to squeeze some of that into one show.

What is all this about HG Wells predicting the future?
HG Wells lived in extraordinary times – The Time Machine was written in 1894 and a new BBC series Victorian Sensations (presented by a steampunk Paul McGann!) is all about ‘the thrilling decade of rapid change’ that was the 1890s. The Time Machine predicts what Planet Earth might look like thousands of years from now and, while we don’t know that Wells got it right, many of his other prophecies proved uncannily accurate. The First and Second World Wars, the League of Nations – he predicted these.

Wells was interested in the future of the whole globe, not petty nationalism, and in wireless technology, laser weapons, genetic engineering. We too live in fascinating times, when it’s nearly impossible to predict what will happen next. Wells was always engaged with current thought and contemporary events, and we want to reflect this in our show. At the end we’ll be asking the audience to follow Wells’s example and predict the future.

So grab your goggles, pocket watch and your crystal ball (those items optional) and come and join us for a steampunk journey through time and space!

The Steampunk Mistress and the Time Machine June 30-July 4, 7.30pm, £16/£12 concs, includes entrance to ship from 6.30pm. Bar on board.

For more info, visit

Read more: Preview: Incoming Festival, Tobacco Factory Theatres


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